1975: Long Boret, on Day One

On this date in 1975, Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge — Day One, Year Zero of its nightmarish four-year reign over Cambodia.

That very day, the Prime Minister of the defeated regime, Long Boret, was arrested and summarily shot at the city’s Cercle Sportif.

Only weeks earlier, he had been furiously trying to negotiate any sort of peace with the advancing guerrillas … but his doomed government had little leverage. Boret was among several high-ranking officials whose names were on a death list the Khmer Rouge announced publicly; when the United States abandoned its support and evacuated days before, it was a surprise that Long was not among the Cambodian officials joining them.

He did have a good idea to get out in these very last hours — he and General Sak Sutsakhan, two of the last of the ancien regime remaining. Here is American correspondent Arnold Isaacs’ account of their last meeting:

When Phnom Penh awoke on the 16th, even the hard-line members of the Supreme Committee saw at last that further resistance was impossible … [and] agreed to … the immediate transfer of power to the revolutionaries. They asked only that there be no reprisals against officials and soldiers of the Phnom Penh regime.

As dawn broke on the 17th, the dispirited group returned to Long Boret’s house, where they finally received [the Khmer Rouge’s] reply to the previous day’s peace offer. It was a flat, frightening rejection. Not only would the liberation forces accept no arranged handover of power, but the membership of the Supreme Committee had been added to the seven original “traitors” on the Khmer Rouge death list.

Stunned, members of the government walked out of the prime minister’s residence and dispersed, leaving a “strange calmness,” General Sak later recalled. Only he and Long Boret were still there when an army officer arrived to report that a few helicopters were preparing to leave from the Olympic Stadium. The two leaders, each in his official car, reached the stadium shortly after eight o’clock and boarded one of the helicopters waiting there. A few minutes later, however, Long Boret’s wife, two children, and his sister, along with some family friends, arrived at the landing zone, and he stepped down to join them on another helicopter. With him went his close friend, Information Minister Thong Lim Huong.

General Sak, with his wife and children, took off at eight-thirty. From the air, as they rose over the city, they could see the prime minister’s party switching to still a third waiting helicopter. Whether both craft were mechanically unflyable or failed to take off for some other reason is not known. But Long Boret never left Phnom Penh. He was seen under arrest that afternoon, and shortly afterward was executed.

On this day..